The Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin and the Promise of Earth Day

In honor of Earth Day I want to write a post focusing on a particular Wisconsin gem, our Natural Resources Foundation. I know many Wisconsinites who are unaware of it, so this seems a good day to try and spread the word and appreciate what it has accomplished for the state since it came to be in 1986.

First, though, I also want to share some nuggets of Earth Day news found around the internet today. Maybe some Gannett papers in Wisconsin are carrying this also, but I found it online at The Tennessean: this nice story about our own Gaylord Nelson, and the beginnings of Earth Day, featuring this stirring quote:  “The battle to restore a proper relationship between man and his environment . . . will require a long, sustained political, moral, ethical and financial commitment far beyond any commitment ever made . . . in the history of man.”

Happening this week in Washington: “Cowboys and Indians Ride on D.C.” – an alliance of “native peoples, farmers, and ranchers” are united in protesting the Keystone pipeline.

A Wikimedia Commons photo of a base mine and tailings pond in the Alberta tarsands region where the Keystone pipeline begins.

A Wikimedia Commons photo of a base mine and tailings pond in the Alberta tarsands region where the Keystone pipeline begins.

Finally, lest we become completely overwhelmed by environmental challenges that seem never-ending “5 environmental wins to celebrate” at the Christian Science Monitor is a good reminder that over time some of the challenges have been successfully met.

But, back to Wisconsin: compared to Earth Day, now 44 years old, the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin is still a youngster. It is  working to address the pressing needs that Nelson articulated. When the Natural Resources Foundation was formed in 1986, declining budgets were compromising “critical programs of the Wisconsin DNR,” and the NRF was formed to recruit members and donors, and to boost “private sector investment and involvement in state-managed natural resources.”

Since then it has developed an active membership of more than 4,000 citizens that support the mission. It has contributed $4.6 million to public and private conservation efforts, and has also created the Wisconsin Conservation Endowment which currently includes 62 funds and $3.5 million in assets that permanently support specific lands, programs, and species. Our endangered whooping cranes are one of the species to benefit.

Fish Creek, in Door County, Wisconsin (A "Badger & Whooping Crane" photo)

Fish Creek, in Door County, Wisconsin (A “Badger & Whooping Crane” photo)

Impressive as all that is, when it comes to the “relationship between man and his environment”, Wisconsin’s NRF probably does that best through it’s dozens and dozens of annual field trips. These have gotten at least 28,000 people outdoors and into Wisconsin’s very best environments – into the State Natural Areas and parks, and in touch with its lands, waters, marshes, and wildlife.

These field trips are led by DNR professionals with other experts with a love and knowledge of the places they will lead you to. Have a look at this comprehensive list of field trips that are being sponsored by NRF from now through November. But look quick, because they’re filling up fast!




Looking for Signs of Spring? Check the Calendar!

This being April in Wisconsin, the signs of spring we’re all yearning for, are often unpredictable, at best, but one place you can always find some is on the calendar! There are a number of dates for interesting events – Earth Day and others – that happen only in April, and these are guaranteed harbingers of spring and the warmer, longer days ahead. Following is a summary of such dates I’ve been collecting.

April 12: The annual Midwest Crane Count

If you’re free from 5:30 to 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, the 12th, you can join one of the largest citizen-based wildlife surveys in the world, to monitor the abundance and distribution of cranes in the upper midwest. This spring phenomenon was initiated by the International Crane Foundation in 1976 to locate and study the sandhill cranes in one Wisconsin county only. It has grown over the years, and now includes reporting on both sandhills and whooping cranes in over 100 counties spread across six upper midwest states.

Visit the International Crane Foundation, near Baraboo. (photo courtesy, ICF)

Visit the International Crane Foundation, near Baraboo. (photo courtesy, ICF)

April 15: The opening day at the International Crane Foundation’s 2014 Visistor Season

At ICF, which will be open everyday from 9 to 5 p.m. beginning Tuesday, April 15th until October 31st, you can wander hiking trails, and get acquainted with individual birds from all 15 species of the world’s cranes. ICF is located just off U.S. Hwy. 12, between Baraboo and Wisconsin Dells. The following new guided tours will be offered this year: Flyways, Culture and Cranes, Whooping Cranes, and Conservation Leadership.


April 19:  John Muir’s Birthday celebration in Marquette County

You’re invited to celebrate the birthday of one of the greatest naturalists of all times – John Muir – in Marquette County (where Muir once lived) with The Wisconsin Friends of John Muir.  The celebration is co-sponsored by the WFJM, the Ice Age Trail, and Marquette County Health Communities.

August flowers along the Ice Age Trail in John Muir Memorial Park (photo courtesy of Kathleen McGwin, WFJM)

August flowers along the Ice Age Trail in John Muir Memorial Park (photo courtesy of Kathleen McGwin, WFJM)

The party plans include an Earth Day clean up and guided hike of John Muir Park, on Hwy. O, between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. and, starting at 1:30  p.m., a family-friendly concert, featuring The Prairie Sands Band,  followed by birthday cake at Vaughhn Hall, 55 W. Montello St., in Montello. 

April 22: Earth Day conference at the Nelson Institute

Actress/activisit Rosario Dawson, British science fiction author China Mieville, leading ecologists Erle Ellis and Kevin Noone, and Paul Robbins, Director of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies (at UW-Madison) will be among the features speakers at the 8th annual Nelson Earth Day Conference. “Earth: To Be Determined” is the theme of the day-long program which will explore challenges and opprotunities presented by rapid-scale changes in the global environment. All events are at Monona Terrace Conference and Convention Center, 1 John Nolen Drive, in Madison.

A campsite at Newport State Park, where am Earth Play Earth Day event is scheculed April 19.  (Photo by Nate Beaty)

A campsite at Newport State Park, where a Work Play Earth Day event is scheculed April 19. (Photo taken by Nate Beaty, July 23, 2013; accessed at Flickr, April 4, 2014.)

April 19, 26, and May 3: Work Play Earth Day in the Wisconsin State Park System

You can get your hands dirty planting, installing benches, pulling out invasives, staining picnic tables or raking up leaves and pine needles at one of the 20 state parks or forests particiapting in these “Work Play Earth Day” events planned by the Friends of Wisconsin State Parks.

(Here is a link to Flickr, for the photo above, taken by Nate Beaty.) 

Earth Day Where YOU Are

And finally, wherever YOU happen to be there’s sure to be something planned for Earth Day 2014. Where I am, for example, the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary has programming planned all weekend, April 25th, 26th and 27th. In addition to an Electronics Recycling Drive (the 25th and 26th) and a Spring Bird Hike early Saturday morning, the Sanctuary will use the occasion to educate the public about its animal resources, including its porcupines, otters, and wolf pack.

Wherever you are in the world, there is probably something similar happening  in April – a chance to do something nice for our Mother Earth, and to get outside and enjoy the gifts of the natural world.